Lena Hall Just Wants to Sing With Heart - October 6, 2016 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Lena Hall Just Wants to Sing With Heart

Lena Hall (Matthew Murphy)

While she’s in town for the duration of Hedwig and the Angry Inch — which runs at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre until Oct. 30 — Lena Hall is staying in her parents’ house in the Haight. There are chickens.

“It’s idyllic,” she says. “Except for when the rooster’s crowing in the morning.”

Hall starred in the original Broadway production of John Cameron Mitchell‘s musical, playing opposite Neil Patrick Harris and Michael C. Hall. These days, she’s up against Darren Criss — except for the one show a week where she ditches the character of Yitzhak, a thwarted Croatian drag queen and Hedwig’s hapless husband, to play the title role.

“It adds so many layers to the show,” she says. “Yitzhak is always in the back, always supporting Hedwig, and always wanting his chance to shine and to be the drag queen he once was. Yitzhak has this yearning to be in front — to be Hedwig, essentially. And what’s cool about it is I get to do that: to go from Yitzhak to be a fabulous woman and play Hedwig.”

Her understudy, Shannon Conley, then takes on the role of Yitzhak.

“It’s like this multilayered thing,” Hall says. “I also love that it’s two women in that stage. It’s like girl power. There’s a lot of things happening right now with women breaking molds, and I’m glad to break this small mold of all men being cast in the role.”

As the 19-year-old Hedwig and the Angry Inch follows the story of an young boy in East Germany who gets sexual confirmation surgery to marry an American GI and escape the Iron Curtain — it goes badly, leaving her with an “angry inch” of flesh, and the Berlin Wall falls one year later — the swirl of gender identity leads many people to think that Yitzhak is also a trans character.

“Even since the first production there have been such dramatic advances” for trans rights, Hall says. “Hedwig has been around a long time, and when it was first built, I think it was ahead of its time. I don’t think the world in general was ready to hear this message. I’ve felt heat from transgender people who felt it wasn’t fair that I was cast in this role. And I hear that, I understand that.”

Comparing the faint stirrings of shift in how casting directors regard trans actors in trans roles to the parallel experience with gay and lesbian parts a generation before, Hall says things are going to change slowly.

“What would be really cool is to see transgender people cast in both of these roles,” she says. “Unfortunately, we have to start slow before we start seeing an adjustment in casting changes and how people are represented on TV and in the general public. It’s start ig to happen slowly. All we can do is try to understand people who desire that change, and be empathetic toward people who feel misrepresented in the world. I think that casting a woman as Hedwig is a great start.”

Having won a Tony in 2014 for playing Yitzhak, Hall has seen her opportunities increase. Relishing the opportunity to be a bit more selective in what she takes on, she’s happy branching into independent film, television shows like Girls, and voiceover work. (“I can’t explain how fun voiceover work is,” she says.”) Her star has risen in theatrical circles to where Hall even got to sing “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” in front of Patti LuPone, an experience that led to LuPone — who has a reputation for being quite formidable — coming to see Hedwig and gushing over Hall.

“After she show, she was like, ‘You’re so fucking talented, I can’t believe it.’ ” Hall says. “I’m like oh my God, Patti! I’ve had a bunch of interactions with her and she came up to me and said, ‘You have to play that role: Evita.’ Which I would love to do.”

But her biggest dream, it seems, would be to sing alongside Ann Wilson of the band Heart.

“Ann Wilson is a massive inspiration for me. Her voice is insane,” Hall says. “I’ve been complimented that I sound like Ann Wilson. I even wrote a musical using their music, based on my and my sister, and I tried to get it to them and get them on board but their manager wasn’t having it. So I kind of dropped out and let it go, but I’m a huge Heart fan. I think they’re very underrated. They don’t get the credit they deserve.”

“Singing with Ann Wilson — I don’t think I’d be able to do it,” she adds. “I don’t get starstruck that easily at all, but it’s like if she appeared and we had to sing together, it would take me a really long time to figure out how to open my mouth and speak. That and maybe [Aerosmith’s] Steven Tyler, cause Steven Tyler is another one of my inspirations. I would have a heart attack and I would sound terrible.”

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, through Oct. 30, at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., shnsf.com.